Jul 5, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcherJeff Samardzija
(29) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The Washington Nationals were heavy favorites to, at the very least, see the World Series this year.
However, with a month and a half left to play, it appears the only way this club will see the World Series is from their couch, along with the rest of us.
Washington (60-63) can hardly be seen in the rearview mirror of the National League East-leading Atlanta Braves, who at 76-48 maintain the best record in all of Major League Baseball. An offense that was projected to lead the Nationals to the postseason has been lackluster, at best. This National League club ranks 12th in the league in terms of batting average (.244) and on-base percentage (.305), while ranking seventh in home runs (114). Bryce Harper has cooled since his red-hot start, bus has continued to be impressive nonetheless, with a .268 average to go along with 17 home runs and 40 RBIs, despite missing significant time due to injury. His on-base percentage of .365 and slugging percentage of .502 demonstrate the raw capabilities of this budding star.
The pitching has also been middle-of-the-road, as well, throwing to a tune of a 3.66 ERA and allowing opposing hitters to bat .250, which ranks as the 13th-best mark in the big leagues. Stephen Strasburg has been solid, despite a lack of run support for much of this season, with a 6-9 record and a 2.93 ERA in 24 starts for Washington. His strikeout numbers have dropped to 9.4 K/9, but his 6.8 H/9 is his lowest total since the 2011 campaign. Jordan Zimmerman has cooled off following a red-hot start, and Gio Gonzalez continues to lend stability and a veteran presence to this young ball club, with a 7-6 record and a mid 3.00 earned run average. His win total will be noticeably lower than the 21 he notched last year, but he continues to be a stable presence for Davey Johnson.
Chicago (53-70) has been abysmal at Wrigley Field of late, having been shutout in five of its previous eight ballgames at home, with a 24-38 record this season at the Friendly Confines. This pales in comparison to a respectable 29-32 mark on the road this year, and the struggles are seemingly unexplainable. The club has major issues tallying runs at home, and this has hurt the chance the club had at making a run at the 75-80 win mark that seemed quite possible just over a month ago. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have both struggled at the dish this year, both hitting well below their marks from the 2012 campaign, but veterans such as Nate Schierholtz have provided some pop in the lineup for skipper Dale Sveum.
Jeff Samardzija has tailed off following a strong start to the season, and Travis Wood continues to be a solid #3 in the rotation. Edwin Jackson continued his strong second half against St. Louis yesterday, but due to a lack of run support and poor fielding behind him, he was unable to notch a win in front of the home faithful. Jake Arrieta has impressed in two starts with the club this year, and Sveum has said that he will finish out the season in the rotation, as the front office aims to get a look at him prior to the 2014 campaign.
In this matchup of struggling clubs, this series could very well come down to the intangibles. Which team will be able to get runners on, over and in? Can the Cubs shake the cobwebs off their bats, and put together consistent at-bats? Time will tell. The series opens tonight at Wrigley Field, with Jordan Zimmerman (14-6, 3.02 ERA) squaring off against Jeff Samardzija (6-11, 4.29 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CDT.